Brazil­ian Pop Star Anitta Re­claims Her Bod­ily Au­ton­omy Ni­cole Froio

Re­claims Her Bod­ily Au­ton­omy

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - TRAVEL -

IN DE­CEM­BER, POP STAR ANITTA sparked heated de­bate among Brazil­ian fem­i­nists when she re­leased “Vai Ma­lan­dra” (“Go Bad Girl” in English), a funk-rap song all about shak­ing her ass. Anitta col­lab­o­rated with an Amer­i­can rap­per in a bid to break into North Amer­ica’s mu­sic scene and, in the process, shined a light on the ex­oti­ciza­tion of Latin Amer­i­can bod­ies. Con­ver­sa­tions around “Vai Ma­lan­dra” fo­cused on Anitta’s agency as a Brazil­ian mixe­drace woman; the ap­pro­pri­a­tion of Black­ness; and the blurred lines be­tween sex­u­al­ity and ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion. “[T]he ass (and women’s bod­ies) can move from ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion to sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion!” cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tions scholar Ivana Bentes ar­gued in an es­say for Mí­dia NINJA. “Anitta’s lively ass, with its cel­lulite and no Pho­to­shop, is a sub­ject, not an ob­ject.” In Clau­dia mag­a­zine, Ju­liana Borges, a re­searcher at the Foun­da­tion School of So­ci­ol­ogy and Pol­i­tics in São Paulo, pon­dered how Brown and Black work­ing-class bod­ies are sex­u­al­ized. “If [the video] is an ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion, we are say­ing that sub­ver­sion is not pos­si­ble and we are putting work­ing-class women, once again, in a role of pas­siv­ity,” she wrote. While the video’s fo­cus on Anitta’s butt and brown skin cer­tainly feeds the West­ern male gaze (al­leged se­rial sex­ual as­saulter Terry Richard­son di­rected the video), it also il­lu­mi­nates how the his­tor­i­cal ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of Brazil­ian women’s bod­ies in­forms how those bod­ies are read. Since the 1960s, travel ad­ver­tise­ments have pro­moted Brazil­ian women’s bod­ies as com­modi­ties for West­ern tourists. “Brazil­ian women’s ‘eas­i­ness’ is nat­u­ral­ized as part of a trop­i­cal dis­po­si­tion that, while tak­ing on spe­cific dy­nam­ics when dis­played on stage, is gen­er­ally part of a larger dis­course ob­jec­ti­fy­ing non-west­ern fe­male sex­u­al­ity,” writes an­thro­pol­ogy pro­fes­sor Dr. Natasha Pravaz in her ar­ti­cle “Per­form­ing Mu­lata-ness: The Pol­i­tics of Cul­tural Au­then­tic­ity and Sex­u­al­ity Among Car­i­oca Samba Dancers.” In a study about nu­dity and the colo­nial imag­i­na­tion, his­tory pro­fes­sor Philippa Levine found that a lack of cloth­ing has been en­tan­gled with meanings of sav­agery, in­fe­ri­or­ity, and prim­i­tive­ness since the 17th cen­tury. “Nei­ther naked­ness nor nu­dity are def­i­ni­tion­ally fixed or uni­ver­sal­iz­able terms or states,” she writes. “What con­sti­tutes a state of un­clothed­ness is fluid and un­sta­ble—a his­tor­i­cal prob­lem, a prob­lem of spa­tial­ity and of tem­po­ral­ity.” While this “trop­i­cal dis­po­si­tion” is part of the mythol­ogy of hy­per­sex­ual Brazil­ian women, this stereo­type is also built us­ing the fig­ure of the mixed-race Brazil­ian woman—who is a sym­bol of both mis­ce­gena­tion and the whiten­ing of a racial­ized other. These are the tropes Anitta at­tempts to sub­vert. Al­though Anitta is mixed-race, she em­braces Brazil­ian funk, a genre of mu­sic that orig­i­nates in work­ing­class Black com­mu­ni­ties (such as the Vidi­gal neigh­bor­hood in Rio de Janeiro, where the video was filmed), and even wears box braids. While Anitta should be more open about her re­la­tion­ship to Black­ness, she still doesn’t es­cape stereo­types as­so­ci­ated with Brazil­ian bod­ies. “Vai Ma­lan­dra” is an in­vi­ta­tion for Western­ers to re­think their as­sump­tions about Black and Brown women. Anitta chooses to twerk for her own plea­sure be­cause danc­ing to funk is a way for Brazil­ian women to en­joy and cel­e­brate their own bod­ies. She’s not pas­sively stand­ing in the back to twerk; this is her song, her body, and she looks straight into the cam­era to make sure ev­ery­one knows that. For years, Brazil­ian fem­i­nists have worked to re­claim own­er­ship over how their bod­ies are per­ceived. They’ve or­ches­trated cam­paigns that chal­lenge street ha­rass­ment and fos­tered con­ver­sa­tions about women be­ing able to dance safely dur­ing Car­ni­val sea­son with­out be­ing groped or vi­o­lated. Women and queer peo­ple have even cre­ated their own ver­sions of funk mu­sic. Though her work has its lim­its, Anitta’s dom­i­na­tion of a genre that con­sis­tently puts women in a sub­mis­sive, sex­u­al­ized po­si­tion is it­self a chal­lenge to the West­ern gaze. Funk danc­ing is not made for the West­ern male gaze. For me, a Brazil­ian woman who lives abroad, danc­ing to funk al­lows me take plea­sure in my body and cel­e­brate my cul­ture. The West­ern gaze has al­ways limited how I dance in pub­lic spa­ces; I have been afraid of be­ing per­ceived as slutty or easy be­cause I en­joy mov­ing in a cer­tain way. I have feared that my na­tion­al­ity, brown com­plex­ion, and danc­ing would at­tract ha­rass­ment and grop­ing—and some­times, they have. Western­ers must aban­don their ex­o­ti­fy­ing gaze and look at dif­fer­ence with a sense of com­plex­ity and hu­man­ity. As a global com­mu­nity, we need to ac­quire a gaze that is rooted in un­der­stand­ing cu­rios­ity rather than ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion. And Anitta is per­fectly equipped to teach that les­son. Ni­cole Froio is a writer and PHD can­di­date in Women’s Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of York, U.K. She stud­ies mas­culin­ity, white­ness, pop cul­ture, sex­ual vi­o­lence, and race. She is a Brazil­ian Colom­bian queer fem­i­nist who hopes to write her way into a bet­ter world.

Sheʼs not pas­sively stand­ing in the back to twerk; this is her song, her body, and she looks straight into the cam­era to make sure ev­ery­one knows that.

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